THUNDER BAY, ON ------ January 22, 2010 ---- I'd been planning on writing something for you about the Conservative style-attack on the Liberals and Michael Ignatieff when by sheer fortune I happened to be reading something that adds an interesting resonance to my already prepared remarks on the attempt to re-shape Stephen Harper as 'un autre petit gare'.
For that is what it is. We are witness to a fascinating Frankenstein-like clod hopping march by Harper and Ignatieff towards the target of becoming Canada's Next Top Jean Chretien. Mister Jay will be advising them on the suits and Fierce Looks. (Actually, I would happily shell out $29.95 to see that on Pay-Per-View.)
Why the fascination? Principally it is because all of Harper, Ignatieff and their pilot fish of yes men, ass kisses and stylists have tried one design and discarded it. Harper was very much coming across as Canada's very own Peter the Great (I shall quell the northern people!) as absolute Tsar of All Doughnut Eaters, until the Conservatives could not consistently break 40% in the opinion polls. The Margaret Thatcher style Harper wasn't playing quite well enough in households where books are used for things other than balancing bridge tables. So it was time to start plonking out John Lennon songs on the piano, stick Mr. Peepers glasses on the nose, and shove the wife and the fam out there. We're as cuddly as that big old doggy snoozing on your feet...
...except we really like ripping Michael Ignatieff's balls off. I've been writing about television and politics both since the days when the presence of Brian Mulroney in a oom wasn't an embarrassment for all other occupants of that space, but I don't think I have ever seen so massive a 'crash the Enterprise into her hull Scotty' attack as the recent Tory camapaign against Ignatgieff.
Massive. And effective.
I hate applauding a negative campaign, particularly one launched without benefit of a Federal election running in the background. Somehow that's not the Canadian way; or hasn't been until the current Harper gang rode into Ottawa. Say what you will about Pierre Trudeau's Rainmaker, Keith Davey who passed away this week, but I'm sure it never crossed the cagey old cage fighter's mind to run a series of ads halfway through a government's term with a scary and sarcastic voice intoning:
Bob Stanfield. He looks kind of weird eating bananas. And he makes weird old man underwear. Do you want him deciding what happens to YOUR kids?
Brrr. I actually creeped myself out with that one. But...and but. This Tory campaign works because it is bang on. The Liberals have not defined themselves at all. Here is how the Liberal Party chooses to define itself: Everything You Like About Harper, We Are! Everything You Don't Like, We Aren't! And that's the show. Don't worry, we'll have a second act for you by the time we open.
The problem with this is that in tennis terms the Conservatives are always on serve. Jimmy Connors and Andre Agassi were the best returners of serve I've ever seen, but they definitely didn't count on getting six breaks to win a set. So what are the Liberals putting up in the tie-break?
Well, they have Michael Ignatieff. That was/is the game. We're all-in on Ace-Six off-suit against three opponents. Ballsy bet. The illusion of strength might win you the pot – but what if someone calls? What's the strength of that Ace?
My argument against the coronation of Ignatieff as Liberal leader was always that being forced to run the gauntlet while being bashed about the shoulders by Bob Rae and Gerard Kennedy, he would have to defend and delineate his positions. That is the sort of personal confessioanl that can only happen during a leadership run. For Ignatieff to now say, 'Oh by the way, about this statement I gave to GQ in 2006, well you know...” Now how does that sound to your ears? Exactly.
But … Da Wize Guyz of the Liberals thought they had that one covered. They blackjacked their opponents and got Ignatieff anointed as leader without any messy and germ-infested voting, and shoved him out at the public as – Pierre Trudeau! The Tribute Act! Ignatieff was old/young the way Trudeau had been old/young; neither was ashamed of their university years; Ignatieff's name would not cause blank stares in Washington or Whitehall.
It hasn't worked very well, now has it? Ignatieff is as disconnected to the public as is my cell phone when I drive over the first rise to the west. Here was the blindingly obvious flaw in the plan. While both Trudeau and Ignatieff were first noticed as academics – no matter how far Pierre Trudeau traveled the world, his focus was always on how his accumulated knowledge could improve Canada. He was Henry David Thoreau with an enlarged backyard. Ignatieff is an internationalist.
That should not be a pejorative – Internationalist? Damn You! - nor should it be in my opinion. After all, Lester Pearson was an internationalist, Nobel Peace Prize and all. Then again, Lester Pearson never won a majority either. So possibly not a winning formula. But the true crunch is that there is so little in Ignatieff's writings and lectures that specifically speaks to a vision, a pattern, a road map for Canada that it becomes easy pickings for the Harper mind control unit to toss out bombs like, 'Michal Ignatieff: He didn't come back for you' and watch them explode.http://astore.amazon.com/bythe-20/search?node=30&keywords=50+literature+ideas&x=16&y=9&preview=
Strangely enough, this leads me to a little book of literary criticism I've been reading for review. It is called '50 literature ideas you really need to know'. Written by Professor John Sutherland, this charming nook published by Quercus in the UK describes and explains all the facets that go into what we know as literature and literary criticism. Put very simply – why do we like the stories we like? I suggest to you that this book needs to be on the desk and/or night table of everyone in paid political employment today.
Why? Because people vote for the best story. They don't vote for the man. They don't vote for the party. They certainly don't vote for the policies. They vote for the man who says that his party and policies will supply a Happy Ending full stop. And that is that.
This has been the Liberals' great failing since the time of Chretien. Policies spun out from the party during the Paul Martin years like water drops off a shaking dog, but there was no discernible path. The effect was a traveler being given a box of maps of everry inch of the world and then told to go find his way? 'But where am I? Where am I going and why do I want to go there anyway?'
Harper, with his little glasses and piano tinkles is trying to present himself as The Man Who Shares Your Concerns. If that image is ever firmly established he will be allowed by the public to tell them whatever the heck he wants. Why? Because Harper knows me. He wants what I want.
In response, Ignatieff flips burgers and pancakes. There's nothing wrong with flipping burgers and pancakes and humping about the country on a big bus. Just once I'd like to see a political leader entertaining picnickers by trimming out dainty little radish rosettes. At least that would be original.
It is not my place as a columnist or a pundit to tell the Liberals how to craft the story that will appeal to the public. At least, it's not my place this week. For we have written long already and after all …
...suspense is a key element in an arresting story.
Be seeing you.
Politics for Joe
By: Hubert O'Hearn
For: Lake Superior News